NFL Week 3 game picks: Pack over Saints; Ravens nip Chiefs

Gregg Rosenthal went 12-4 on his predictions for Week 2, bringing his season record to 21-11. How will he fare in Week 3? His picks are below.

Sunday, Sept. 27

Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Houston Texans 21

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)

The schedule-maker’s revenge against the Texans continues. Deshaun Watson is the league’s most-sacked quarterback again. The right side of his offensive line is broken, and now Houston has to deal with T.J. Watt, the best edge rusher in the NFL. The Steelers have 73 (!) pressures through two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus, an outrageous figure that also speaks to cornerback Mike Hilton’s status as the best defensive back blitzer this side of Jamal Adams. Both offenses are still searching for what they do consistently well, but sometimes picking games shouldn’t be that complicated. Pittsburgh’s players on both sides of the ball are simply better, and there’s little reason to believe Houston’s coaching makes up the difference.

Philadelphia Eagles 28, Cincinnati Bengals 20

1 p.m. ET (CBS) |Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)

Carson Wentz is missing layups; Joe Burrow doesn’t have any. The Eagles’ defensive reinforcements should be rounding into form; the Bengals’ Geno Atkins remains nowhere to be seen. It’s hard to overstate how bad the Eagles’ offense has been through two weeks — the unit currently ranks dead last in efficiency — but Miles Sanders should run wild in a matchup designed to soothe the Philly faithful. Even better: 1-2 might be good for first place in the NFC East by the end of the weekend.

New York Giants 20, San Francisco 49ers 19

1 p.m. ET (FOX) |MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Kyle Shanahan is so taken for granted that San Francisco won a road blowout with a team of backups and no one blinked. It won’t be as easy a second time around in MetLife Stadium with Nick Mullens starting at quarterback this Sunday. The 49ers are somehow the most forgiving defense the 0-2 Giants have faced thus far, and despite Saquon Barkley’s season-ending injury, there have been glimmers of hope for Big Blue with a more professional-looking defense. In other words, they aren’t the Jets.

New England Patriots 28, Las Vegas Raiders 24

1 p.m. ET (CBS) |Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)

This is a brutal matchup for both defensive fronts. The Raiders’ late-1980s playing style is perfectly crafted to wear down defenses like New England’s, which is designed to play with six defensive backs and invite the opposition to run. Derek Carr has barely been touched in two weeks, and that doesn’t figure to change against a Patriots team where Chase Winovich is (easily?) the best front-seven player.

The Raiders’ passive pass rush (one sack so far) doesn’t have it any better against a cohesive New England offensive line. After Cam Newton proved he is throwing as well as ever in Week 2, the Patriots present a lot to defend, even if their wide receivers are mostly moving at Witten speed. Possessions and defensive stops figure to be at a premium, so give the edge to Bill Belichick in a tight game where situational football makes the difference.

Tennessee Titans 23, Minnesota Vikings 20

1 p.m. ET (CBS) |U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)

The contrarian in me planned to pick the Vikings all week. Teams with this much established talent usually respond before torpedoing their season at 0-3, and the Titans’ two wins came against so-so opponents with a fair bit of luck. The game is in Minnesota, if that matters anymore.

Then I Game Passed the Vikings’ loss to the Colts and realized it’s the established talent that is part of the problem. Kirk Cousins is overthinking decisions. Eric Kendricks doesn’t look like himself in coverage, and his tag-team partner, Anthony Barr, is now on injured reserve. The Vikings’ safeties are busy spending all their time covering for the team’s young cornerbacks. That leaves their run defense vulnerable, which is not ideal with Derrick Henry coming to town. When a team shows you they are bad for two straight weeks, sometimes you have to believe them.

Cleveland Browns 24, Washington Football Team 18

1 p.m. ET (FOX) |FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)

The schedule-makers did the discombobulated Browns’ defense a massive favor by serving them Cincinnati and Washington in successive weeks. The WFT’s Dwayne Haskins-led passing game appears to be hitting Week 3 of its preseason, which is not surprising. The front-loaded Washington defense, meanwhile, is ranked first in efficiency against the pass, but mediocre against the run. That sets up well for Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, as he knows his solid offensive line and better tandem of backs is enough to win this game on their own, Marty Schottenheimer style. It sounds simple — but this is the type of game the 2019 Browns would find a way to complicate.

Los Angeles Rams 30, Buffalo Bills 27

1 p.m. ET (FOX) |Bills Stadium (Orchard Park, N.Y.)

This is a fascinating test for Josh Allen 2.0, after the Bills QB spent the first two weeks of the season devouring cupcakes. Play-caller Brian Daboll is feeling himself, and there aren’t many defenses that can match up with Buffalo’s depth of offensive weapons — a tall order, even for an underrated Los Angeles secondary playing well under new coordinator Brandon Staley. The Bills’ defense could be the bigger issue here, especially if the top linebackers aren’t healthy against a Rams team that is second to none at flooding the middle of the field. Bills cornerback Levi Wallace is also struggling, and there are few coaches better than Sean McVay at identifying weaknesses and hammering them. L.A. and Buffalo both look like playoff teams that didn’t need a preseason.

Atlanta Falcons 24, Chicago Bears 20

1 p.m. ET (FOX) |Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

The last two quarterbacks to face this Falcons defense won NFC Offensive Player of the Week. If that trend continues, Dan Quinn might not be kept around to keep the streak going. While Mitchell Trubisky has made some nice throws and the Bears’ running game is undeniably better this season, Chicago’s offense still ranks 24th in efficiency because of long stretches of inactivity against mediocre defenses. The Bears are a defense-first team — and the defensive line, featuring Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, is now cooking with gas. This presents an excellent test for a Falcons offensive line that suddenly can pass block, allowing Matt Ryan to play as well as you possibly can for an 0-2 team. He’s playing too well to go 0-3.

Los Angeles Chargers 27, Carolina Panthers 22

4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) |SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)

Justin Herbert couldn’t ask for a better matchup in his first NFL start that he didn’t learn about shortly before kickoff. Carolina’s defense has a grand total of 1 QB hit with no sacks through two weeks. This is a lightweight group playing a lot of dime defense, almost inviting the opposition to run because the Panthers know they don’t have a pass rush until Kawann Short returns from a foot injury.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn doesn’t need an invitation to go run-heavy after finding Austin Ekeler’s outstanding rookie backup, Joshua Kelley. It’s not like the Bolts have to change the offense much. Ideally, Herbert is athletic and heady like Taylor, except a head taller and with a more consistent arm. As brutal as the circumstances surrounding Taylor’s absence are, it might be tough for him to get his job back after this matchup.

Indianapolis Colts 26, New York Jets 13

4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) |Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)

The Jets found their left tackle for the next decade in Mekhi Becton, who is making my colleague Baldy break down in tears of joy with his ferocity. There’s virtually nothing else positive to say about Gang Green, the one NFL club I don’t expect to be competitive on a weekly basis until proven otherwise. Like most Adam Gase teams, these Jets try to win with 7-yard completions.

Indy has quietly lost three compelling starters who are 24 years old or younger (safety Malik Hooker, running back Marlon Mack and wideout Parris Campbell), but the depth of this well-constructed roster still holds up. The Colts should grind inferior opponents like the Jets down with their physicality.

Seattle Seahawks 33, Dallas Cowboys 30

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) |CenturyLink Field (Seattle)

These teams are emblematic of the NFL in early 2020: The offenses are on schedule; the defenses have no pass rush. That development is more surprising in Dallas, considering Jerry Jones’ defensive investments up front, and will be a huge problem against Russell Wilson, who’s off to a near-perfect start to the season. The Cowboys’ offense is too diverse to be held down by a Seattle defense that looks ordinary despite its big names. This is another test of how much the Seahawks will Let Russ Cook, because this Dallas team is eminently attackable through the air. Everyone in the pool for fantasy leagues!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23, Denver Broncos 21

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) |Empower Field at Mile High (Denver)

The Broncos came within 15 yards of taking a late lead in Pittsburgh despite losing starting quarterback Drew Lock to a shoulder injury when the game was still scoreless in the first quarter. This is what Vic Fangio’s Broncos teams do, especially early in the season. Even with No. 1 wideout Courtland Sutton lost to a torn ACL, rookie wideouts Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler are legit. Tight end Noah Fant is making The Leap, and Fangio’s defense scrambles opposing quarterbacks no matter how many starters it’s missing.

Tom Brady’s Bucs offense, meanwhile, did not look as cohesive as Tampa’s final tally in the win over the Panthers indicated. The 43-year-old QB barely faced any pressure, and the Buccaneers still made many mistakes. Brady’s teams have won 220 regular-season games he’s started, compared with just one for Broncos starter Jeff Driskel, but this game promises to be closer than you expect. It’s the Fangio Way.

Arizona Cardinals 30, Detroit Lions 28

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) |State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)

It’s not a surprise that the Lions’ defense is struggling under coach Matt Patricia. That’s what they’ve done for three years, and injuries don’t help. Neither does the fact that No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah doesn’t look ready for prime time after being bullied by Aaron Rodgers a week ago. It is a bigger surprise that Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense is so meh, although the return of No. 1 receiver Kenny Golladay — if he is indeed a go on Sunday after missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury — should help. While the gap between these teams is not as big as their records indicate, it’s hard to pick against the Cardinals in a matchup where Kyler Murray’s arm should catch up to his legs.

Green Bay Packers 26, New Orleans Saints 24

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) |Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)

Sean Payton is trying to figure out which plays work with this erratic version of Drew Brees supported by No. 1 receiver Tre'Quan Smith. Aaron Rodgers spent the fourth quarter of last week’s win with his arm around Matt LaFleur. The Packers can win with the quick stuff or deep bombs, with the pass or the run.

The Saints’ best hope is a rejuvenated Alvin Kamara against a Mike Pettine defense usually allergic to stopping the run, but this is a New Orleans offense with far less margin for error than usual. The odd sight of Brees missing passes took attention away from a Saints defense that didn’t force the Raiders to punt after the first quarter on Monday night. The Packers can go big and grind defenses to powder, just like the Raiders did. Green Bay has more ways to win.

Monday, Sept. 28

Baltimore Ravens 35, Kansas City Chiefs 30

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) |M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)

Tough game to pick. Patrick Mahomes as an underdog feels like a crime against humanity, yet there’s no question the Ravens have looked like the NFL’s best team early. They pass the numbers test and the eye test. The Chiefs are 2-0 without having their offense in gear.

Thirty quarterbacks have more completions of 20-plus yards than Mahomes (3), including Jeff Driskel. The Chiefs rank 17th in yards per play (5.7), and their offensive line has looked ordinary. I have no question Kansas City will snap out of it, but it’s facing a Ravens team that looks faster on offense (Devin Duvernay! Miles Boykin! J.K. Dobbins!) and tougher on defense (Calais Campbell! Derek Wolfe!). This shapes up as the early-season message from the Ravens that the Chiefs will have to respond to in January, probably back in Baltimore.

Thursday, Sept. 24

Jacksonville Jaguars 31, Miami Dolphins 26

8:20 p.m. ET (NFLN) | TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)

The Dolphins and Jaguars both installed new offenses on Zoom this offseason. They both have resourceful quarterbacks. The difference is that Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden apparently mastered the art of distance learning and enjoys a promising array of young talent, including rookies Laviska Shenault Jr. and James Robinson, while Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is coaching for the first time since 2016 and mostly trying to work with disparate parts that resemble leftovers. In a game where neither defense inspires confidence, Gardner Minshew is playing too well to pick against.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @GreggRosenthal.

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